Posted on Thursday, December 10, 2015

Can the Flu Cause Hearing Loss?

Man with mask

Influenza or the flu has many well-known symptoms including fever, headache, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, and exhaustion. But did you know the flu can also affect your hearing? People with the flu can experience hearing loss that can be either temporary or permanent.

The loss of hearing in one or both ears due to the flu can be permanent or temporary depending on what is happening within the ear. Unfortunately, when you have the flu it's hard to tell if the condition will clear up with the flu or if the virus is doing permanent damage to the delicate parts within the ear. Let's look at both types of hearing loss.

The first type of hearing loss you can experience with the flu is called conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss is the result of sound waves being blocked from the inner ear. When this happens with the flu, it's similar to what happens to children in childhood when they have conditions like otitis media or middle ear infection, as explained in this video.

Basically, inside the middle ear is a tube called the Eustachian tube. This tube can be blocked due to sinus issues which are common with the flu. You've probably had this blocked feeling before during plane travel. That's because the Eustachian tube also regulates air pressure in the middle ear. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear with the nose and throat. So you can see how a buildup of fluid in the nose or sinuses can cause an issue with the ears. With this type of hearing loss the blockage and pressure will usually subside when the buildup decreases.

Sensorineural hearing loss (SHL) is caused by damage to the inner ear or the nerves or hair cells that transmit sound signals to the brain. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is described as the unexpected loss of most or all hearing in one or both ears occurring within 3 days or less. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss that happens with the flu is the result of the virus attacking the delicate parts within the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is considered an emergency. If you have the flu and have sudden hearing loss, in order to protect your hearing, you should see your hearing health provider as soon as possible. There is a chance your hearing could be saved with use of steroids. Seeing a hearing health specialist is probably the last thing you want to do with the flu, but it's important. There is a short time period for intervention to be useful in this situation. And sometimes a family doctor--less familiar with SSHL due to flu--will dismiss the hearing loss as temporary. In this case, it won't be until after the flu has passed that a person realizes there was permanent damage. Waiting to treat SSHL often results in permanent hearing loss.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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